Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of Attack on Titan Anthology! As the editor of the book, what can you tell us about the premise of the anthology and the inspiration behind its compilation?
Ben Applegate: Thank you! It’s the end of a very long road. The book came about because Kodansha has grown much more interested in the US market, and they were looking for new and unique ways to serve their American readers. The idea of an anthology quickly gained support from the creative and executive teams as a good place to start. As this would be the first chance non-Japanese artists would have to play in the Attack on Titan universe, we sought out a wide variety of tones and styles. I think our contributors rose to the challenge in that respect. The freedom they had to collaborate with the original creative team, and their own willingness to take Attack on Titan in some truly novel directions, led to an explosive outpouring of creative energy. As a result, practically every style of comics out there is represented in the book.
By the way, I’m only one of the editors involved; the co-editor on the book, Jeanine Schaefer, is a comics veteran who assembled this incredible team and guided us patiently through all the pitfalls facing an unprecedented project like this, and the editor of Attack on Titan at Kodansha Japan was also very much involved, contributing to and approving all of the scripts and art with incredible patience. Of course, he also served as our conduit to Titan creator Hajime Isayama.
BD: The Attack on Titan Anthology features powerhouse creators including Scott Snyder, Babs Tarr, Paolo Rivera, Michael Avon Oeming, Gail Simone, and Ronald Wimberly. How would you describe the creative process in working with the various writers and artists associated with the book?
BA: For me, at least, it was a crash course in just how much the workflow of great creators can vary. We had some writers, like Si Spurrier and Gail Simone, who came out of the gate with an intense, completely fleshed-out story and characters, and others who were really interested in exploring the lore of Attack on Titan and integrating their work tightly into the universe. Though, of course, everyone worked hard to adopt the tone and narrative characteristics of Titan, the two writers who got deepest into the specifics of the lore were probably Genevieve Valentine and Rhianna Pratchett.
To discuss the creators you mentioned by name, Scott Snyder started with a very clear idea of what he wanted to accomplish, then slowly filled in the details with his collaborator Ray Fawkes. The result is chillingly prescient.
Mike Oeming put a lot of focus onto creating new Titans for his characters to fight, and in the visuals of those fights. I think the message of his story is one of the most “Attack on Titan-ey” in the book, as well.
After finishing their run on Batgirl, Babs, Cameron Stewart, and Brenden Fletcher were extremely excited about drawing horrific gore for a change, and their story now reads to me like a warm-up for their new series Motor Crush, which is gleefully violent. It’s a delight.
Ron Wimberly is a mad and possibly dangerous genius whose story I had practically no input on, and it’s all the better for it.
BD: Attack on Titan’s success in manga form created loyal fans on a global scale. Why do you feel that fans connect so strongly with the story and its characters, and what can readers anticipate about the anthology and how it impacts the Attack on Titan universe?
BA: It is truly humbling to receive permission to contribute to such a carefully constructed world into which so many fans have invested their time and passion. On the surface, Attack on Titan is popular among teenagers because the idea of living in a frustratingly circumscribed, “walled” world that is cut off from the limitless, if dangerous, “real” world is something a lot of young people can readily identify with. But beyond that, I think Isayama-sensei is doing something unique among big hit shonen manga, and the more twists the story takes the more rewarding it becomes for me. He’s not afraid to be provocative, whether that means killing off fan-favorite characters or alluding to real-life issues. Most importantly, he has a plan, and the place he starts when he introduces a new theme is almost never the place he ends up. My patience has always been rewarded reading Attack on Titan, and I can’t think of another long shonen series where that’s true 100% of the time.
Of course, doing stories that are between eight and thirty pages long, we didn’t have the space to develop characters and themes over many chapters, but in the serious stories we worked hard to produce the same feeling as the original work. We wanted the readers to feel the same exhilaration of knowing that no one is safe, and that cruel reality can intrude at any time on the fairy tales we tell ourselves.
As far as the impact on the overall Attack on Titan universe goes, we were only able to do a few stories where major characters from the main series appear. Fans of Erwin Smith will get to see a little of his backstory up close, and some of the Survey Corps members also appear. Evan Dorkin’s gag strips were probably the place where we were able to play around with the main characters the most.
BD: Do you feel that the anthology will appeal to seasoned fans, as well as those who may be new to the property?
BA: I certainly hope so, as that was our intention. We assembled the book for people who may have seen some or all of the anime but have not necessarily read the manga past the end of the first season. But most of the stories require no prior knowledge of Attack on Titan beyond the brief introduction we included at the beginning of the Anthology. I think the emotional relevance and artistic quality of the stories help them stand on their own, and it would be wonderful if a few American comics readers who haven’t read much manga were motivated to pick up a few after reading this book.
BD: Why do you feel that Kodansha Comics makes a great home for the anthology, and what do you hope that readers will take away from the book?
The biggest message of the project is this, if you’ll forgive the shameless Titan reference: The wall between manga and comics has been breached, and it’s coming down. We worked with dozens of Western comics creators on this project, and all of them read manga to some extent or another. Particularly the younger generation of creators count manga among their strongest influences, and that goes both ways – Hajime Isayama is a fan of American pop culture. Just recently, he binge-watched all six seasons of Game of Thrones and posted drawings of Jorah Mormont and Davos Seaworth online.
There is a reason our imprint is called “Kodansha Comics” and not “Kodansha Manga.” In Japan, the manga product line of Kodansha is also called “Kodansha Comics.” We set out to prove that building stronger artistic ties between the worlds of Japanese and Western sequential art has the potential to produce something new and exciting. It’s clear that a few other publishers, most prominently Marvel, believe the same thing. My hope is that we’re just getting started.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
BA: Nothing that we’re ready to share at this moment, but keep an eye on our convention appearances over the next four months.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Attack on Titan Anthology?
BA: You can visit our website, kodanshacomics.com, and keep an eye on our Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook pages, as well as our YouTube channel. Our marketing team, led by Misaki Kido, has produced some fascinating videos with interviews and studio tours with some of the creators, including Ron Wimberly, Jorge Corona, Paolo Rivera, and Tomer Hanuka. Some even include live drawing. They’re a wonderful peek into the different ways creators approached this unusual challenge.
Of course, the best way to find out more is to buy a copy of the hardcover! There are four covers available, the main cover by Paolo, a BAM!/Fried Pie Comics variant by Paul Pope, a Barnes & Noble variant by Faith Erin Hicks, and a Diamond variant by Phil Jimenez, and each has a very different style and feel.